Picks and Pans Review: My Life as a Dog

updated 08/24/1987 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/24/1987 01:00AM

The first time the 12-year-old hero barks, he is clowning with his uncle and aunt, who have initiated these animal antics. For the grownups, however, the horseplay is foreplay, and young Ingemar soon gets a door slammed in his face as the couple careers into the bedroom. Indeed, My Life as a Dog is about dignity in the face of slammed doors. Directed with sensitivity by Swedish filmmaker Lasse Hallström, this memoir of a crippling childhood has emerged as an art-house favorite for an understandable reason: Hallström respects childhood as the ultimate challenge. In this case, the resourceful, resilient youngster is saddled with an inattentive older brother and saddened by the decline of his tubercular mother. Exiled to his uncle's place, the boy confronts a menagerie of eccentric characters, and one of the film's nice touches is that not all the eccentrics are adults. In Hallström's sometimes sweet, more often bittersweet tableaux, which are colored by the white light of memory, youth is no stranger to strangeness. Unfortunately, the movie is never as quick-witted as Ingemar—or as inventive as Anton Glanzelius, who plays him. A sensation in Sweden, My Life as a Dog doesn't reflect the provocative ambivalence about childhood that infused Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander nor does it have the poetry of François Truffaut's meditations on youth. But what it lacks in ambition, My Life as a Dog makes up in amiability. (In Swedish with subtitles; not rated)

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